Ryan Newman had a strong run going in the STP Gas Booster 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, but a pair of flat tires relegated him to a 31st-place finish.
Newman started 10th in the 43-car field in the Quicken Loans Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) and held his position in the opening laps. But he began to fall multiple positions after being pinned on the high side of the .526-mile oval. Once defending race winner Newman was able to settle into the preferred, bottom line, he slowly began climbing toward the front from mid-pack.
With many caution periods throughout the first half of the 500-lap event, crew chief Matt Borland was able to make the necessary chassis adjustments to dial in the handling of the Quicken Loans Chevrolet. Newman was able to battle back into the top-10 before lap 200.
Newman maintained his presence in the top-10 until once again getting shuffled to the high side of the racetrack just past the halfway point of the race. As Newman patiently waited for opportunities to advance, he reported the handling of his car again was tight. Moments later, the right front tire of Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet deflated. With race traffic blocking his entry to pit road, Newman continued to work his way around the speedway searching for the opening he needed. When he brought the red-and-white machine to a stop, NASCAR was forced to display the caution flag. After deeming that Newman had intentionally caused the caution, officials held him for a three-lap penalty.
When green-flag racing conditions resumed, Newman and Borland devised a strategy that they hoped would allow them to earn some laps back and get their Quicken Loans machine back into contention. But another flat tire at lap 423 saw the team go into survival mode. Newman and Borland agreed to play it safe, log laps and make it to the checkered flag.
“That wasn’t the finish we deserved today,” Newman said. “The Quicken Loans Chevrolet was really strong all day long. We felt like the car was capable of finishing in the top-10. We had a right-front tire go down late in the going, and that obviously put us behind. NASCAR penalized us for intentionally bringing out the caution, so they held us for three laps. I felt like I didn’t have a whole lot of choice, or else I would have wrecked half the field. We lost another right front not long after that, and our day was pretty much done from there. At that point, we were just trying to make it to the finish and pick up as many points as we could. Matt Borland and all the guys on the Quicken Loans team did a good job of making adjustments to get the car handling like I wanted it to, but we couldn’t capitalize on it, unfortunately.”
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS, led the way for SHR by finishing 12th. Patrick scored her best Sprint Cup result since finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, finished 17th.
Jimmie Johnson won the STP Gas Booster 500 to score his 62nd career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his eighth at Martinsville. Johnson is the winningest active Sprint Cup driver in Martinsville history. He trails only Richard Petty (15 wins) and Darrell Waltrip (11 wins) on the track’s all-time win list, which has played host to the Sprint Cup Series since 1949.
Clint Bowyer finished .627 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 12 caution periods for 85 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With round six of 36 complete, Stewart leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He maintained his 22nd-place standing and is 96 points behind new series leader Johnson. Newman fell three positions to 23rd, 97 points out of first. Patrick gained three spots to climb to 26th, 112 points behind Johnson.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 13 spots ahead of Stenhouse, who placed 25th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the NRA 500 Saturday, April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.